After an excellent showing in the Cleveland Browns‘ win last weekend against the Tennessee Titans, Baker Mayfield has to follow up with another strong performance this coming Monday against the division-rival Baltimore Ravens. While his performance netted him FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week honors, he needs to show that he’s someone his franchise can trust to give them a shot at a championship.
To prove he can win in the playoffs, Baker Mayfield needs to play strong against the Ravens on Monday Night Football
Last weekend was everything Browns fans had been looking for this season. The team looked emphatically better than the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans. Their defense dominated the line of scrimmage, holding Derrick Henry to just 60 yards on 15 carries. Most importantly to Northern Ohioans, however, was the incredible performance from quarterback Baker Mayfield, who passed for 334 yards going 25-of-33 with 4 touchdowns (though he would have had a fifth if Donovan Peoples-Jones didn’t drop an easy one on the first drive.
Now, sitting pretty with a 9-3 record and the 21st remaining strength of schedule, the Browns are cruising back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. However, their playoff success will ultimately be defined by strong performances from Baker Mayfield, who is streaky at best in his third NFL season.
On Monday, fans are going to learn a lot about Mayfield, when the Browns play host to the Ravens (7-5). Still working to bring their team back to full strength following an internal COVID-19 outbreak, Baltimore is currently on the outside looking in, needing help to vault back into the playoffs. If they look anything like they did on Tuesday against the Dallas Cowboys (who they rolled 35-17 at home), they’re going to be a hard team to beat over the final four weeks.
Baker Mayfield’s up-and-down performances this season
When the Browns saw the Ravens in Week 1, they looked just as sharp, walloping Cleveland by a 38-6 margin, a game where Mayfield finished 21-of-39 for 189 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Can he be better than that this week? It’s going to be a crucial test.
It’s not that Mayfield has to be perfect on Monday, he can lean on other parts of the Browns’ well-rounded team to carry a good deal of the load.
The easy way out for Cleveland is to lean on their excellent running game featuring Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The two combined for 138 yards on 27 attempts (5.1 yards per carry) in that Week 1 loss and the Ravens have a pedestrian run defense. Cleveland’s defense hasn’t been world-beating, but when Myles Garrett is on the field, they’re always going to be terrifying.
However, it’s elite quarterback play that wins games in January. That’s something that Cleveland has yet to capture on any consistent basis. Baker Mayfield strong performances in big spots at Oklahoma, now he needs to do it in the NFL.
Consistency will be key for the 25-year-old quarterback. Six times this season, Mayfield’s had a quarterback rating over 100. Three times, he’s had a quarterback rating under 70. Three other times, he was in between. While he’s been better more often than not, his three worst performances of the season came against three playoff teams; the Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, and Las Vegas Raiders.
Not turning the football this season has been hugely beneficial
One area of great gain, regardless of all else, has been the season-long improvement of Baker Mayfield’s decisions with the football. While early in the season, he seemed to be throwing interceptions to anyone who wanted one, it’s been five weeks since Mayfield turned it over.
The QBs who started/finished 4 games in the month of November without throwing an interception:
* Deshaun Watson
* Baker Mayfield
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) December 1, 2020
With seven interceptions on the season, Mayfield is in the middle of the pack through three-quarters of the season. Throwing 14 interceptions in his first season and 21 interceptions in 2019 (second-most in the league), he’s showing strong signs of improvement in 2020.
The old adage goes “win the turnover battle, win the game.” If Mayfield isn’t turning over the football, it’s of immediate interest to the Browns.
Mayfield did throw one in his prior meeting against the Ravens, who rank 25th in the league with only seven picks on the season. However, Baltimore does rank 12th in the league in turnover percentage, ending 13.1% of opponent drives by taking the ball away.
Cleveland needs to win now, build confidence in Mayfield
Baltimore is a big test for Mayfield. Win this one and the division could even be in play when the Browns host the Pittsburgh Steelers for a massive outing in Week 17. If Cleveland loses this week in Baltimore, things start to feel a little bit dicey.
While FiveThirtyEight still gives the Browns an 81-percent shot to make the playoffs in a loss this weekend, it would have fans around Lake Erie feeling awfully nervous.
Throughout this season, there’s been plenty of pontification about Mayfield’s regression from his impressive rookie season, when he passed for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns, and averaged 266.2 yards per contest. This season, he’s on pace for a similar touchdown count, but he’s passing for just 203.5 yards per contest, which ranks 29th in the league.
Passing the football is of massive importance and priority in the modern NFL. The Browns have the second-best rushing offense in the league this season, but they can’t be as one-dimensional heading into the playoffs; it just won’t work.
Can Cleveland rely on their rushing game this week to beat Baltimore? Probably. However, they really, really have to see if Baker Mayfield can be the guy, when the weather gets cold, to find ways to win a football game.
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